“Who gives a fuck about a Goddamn Grammy?” – Flavor Flav of Public Enemy on 1988 “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” track “Terminator to the Edge of Panic”LLike hip-hop before it, as Electronic Dance Music continues its crossover into the mainstream, it must face an inevitability met by all rising music genres; recognition by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Science. Hip-hop went through a very tumultuous Grammy initiation in 1989. Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, nominees in the first ever “Best Rap Performance” category, boycotted the ceremony after learning the award presentation wouldn’t be televised. Controversy continued the following year when “Poindexter” rapper Young MC won in the same category for “Bust a Move.” Over Public Enemy’s historically important “Fight the Power.”
The first Dance/Electronica Grammy went to Basement Jaxx in 2005. A monopoly on the prize by dance-influenced pop stars like Madonna, Lady Gaga and La Roux then ensued. However, over the past two years, traditional EDM has begun to retake its rightful claim.
In 2012, EDM broke through in a big way when Skrillex deservedly won three golden gramophones. It might have been nice to see the dubstep master share the wealth with fellow nominees Swedish House Mafia (i.e. SHM) and Deadmau5. Simultaneously though, EDM purists breathed a huge sigh of relief that Duck Sauce’s gimmicky “Barbara Streisand” lost to worthier competition.
EDM had its first glimpse of Grammy controversy in 2013. Skrillex won “Best Dance Recording” for “Bangarang,” once again beating out SHM, Deadmau5 and relative newcomer Avicii. The EDM crowd reveres Skrillex, but many don’t want him as their poster boy. Dubstep has its place but by no means should it be the principal of the genre. Its frequent lack of harmony and vocals make it an easy target for those looking to brand it as non-music.
It just so happened that two of the nominees last year were songs that many EDM fans would put forth as Exhibit A and B in the EDM musical chops debate: Avicii’s “Levels” and SHM’s “Don’t You Worry Child.” “Don’t You Worry Child” is an all-time great by its own merit, not to mention many thought SHM needed proper approbation given their role in popularizing EDM and their impending breakup. A Grammy would have made for a nice sendoff.
Then, there’s Avicii.
Tim Bergling (aka Avicii) is a 24-year-old Swede with a countenance of perpetual youth. Listen to his music and it wouldn’t be crazy to think him some sort of love child born of Muddy Waters and Chaka Khan. He is one soulful dude. EDM producers often sample vocals from ‘70s disco or ‘80s R&B/soul but what Avicii did with Etta James’ iconic “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” riff puts him on a higher plane.
Stockholm has a historically vibrant jazz and soul scene. The original Lydmar Hotel for instance was famous in the ‘90s for live performances by Isaac Hayes, The Jungle Brothers and other international and Swedish artists. Little Tim likely snuck into more than one jazz bar as a child. This combined with a blueprint from Sweden’s lengthy list of virtuoso producers, helped him cultivate a sound that to ignite spirits and raise arm hairs.
In a very short period, “Levels” not only became the biggest EDM hit of the year, it also permeated pop culture, cropping up in Bud Light and Buick commercials. When they write the EDM history books, its place will be among the most important songs of its kind. Call “Levels” tired. Call it played-out, but listen to it right now and try to avoid nodding your head while singing along with Etta. May she rest in peace.
James passed away in 2012. Yet another reason a Grammy for “Levels” would have been the perfect tribute. Shame on you National Academy of Recording Arts and Science for not recognizing a stone cold legend when you had the chance.What does a young phenom do when critical acclaim passes him over? He goes back to the drawing boards and begins again. If Avicii’s debut studio album. “True.” with its intrepid debut single “Wake Me Up,” doesn’t win a Grammy then they should just stop giving out awards altogether.
For “Wake Me Up,” Avicii incorporated tinctures of folk, alternative, country and of course EDM. The opening guitar riff and transcendent Aloe Blacc  intro vocals evoke Tracy Chapman. When the beat kicks in, so too does the inclination to do some serious Southern two-stepping. Then, after the break, it gets into full Avicii EDM mode. By the time the track fully blossoms, you are hooked. Remixes for the EDM crowd abound but the original stands alone as a masterpiece.
Just in case the fools who decide the Grammys need a heavy-handed hint, here it is: Avicii put out a 100% award worthy LP. EDM albums are generally an afterthought or just a collection of songs an artist has released over the past year. Calvin Harris’ “18 Months” could not have been more aptly titled. He put all his songs that received positive feedback over the past 18 months in one spot. Maybe he added a new track or two but he did not come up with entirely new material.
With “True,” Avicii brings it like it’s never been broughten [sic]. It would have been easy to let it ride on 2013 summer anthems “I Could Be The One” and “X You” but the young genius decided to push all-in.
The structure of this album lends itself to near perfection. It gets the attention of those new to Avicii with several very approachable tracks, it transitions into some risky but strong songs and it finishes with a few gems for his tried and true following. When Avicii sampled some of the album at Ultra earlier this year it garnered very mixed reviews from the festival crowd. Made immediately clear was the fact that this was for people other than Molly-dazed 18-year-olds.
The beauty of Avicii’s vision is that every non-traditional EDM track on the album remains an open palette for remixes (to date, the Hardwell remix of “Wake Me Up” takes the cake).
“Wake Me Up” – Classic.
“You Make Me” – What people hoped for with MGMT’s second album
“Hey Brother” – Does Kenny Rogers have a son who sings EDM vocals? Another huge hit in the making
“Addicted To You” – Opening guitar riff and vocals are addictive
“Dear Boy” – Classic Avicii with vocals from unknown Danish singer Mø; the spitting sound of Lana Del Rey
“Liar Liar” – Classic euro sound destined for heavy rotation at St. Tropez Hotel Byblos next summer
“Shame On Me” – If Michael Jackson had made an EDM song, wouldn’t it sound sort of like this? A departure in style but a very welcome one
“Lay Me Down” – Put aside any preexisting anti-American Idol bias on this one because Adam Lambert masters the difficult lyrics. Funk/soul legend Nile Rodgers (Chic, David Bowie, Madonna, Diana Ross, Duran Duran, Sister Sledge) co-produced the party anthem. Here, Muddy Waters and Chaka Khan make their influence known
“Hope There’s Someone” – Linnea Henriksson gives Florence Welch a run for her money
Spotify Bonus Tracks
“Canyons” – One for the core fans. Feels like Mansion in Miami at 4:15am. At times manic, at times melodic – classic Avicii.
Listen to Avicii’s album “True” here (you will need Spotify to listen):